How to Buy a Used PA System

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How to Buy a Used PA System

There are many situations where a PA system may be required. They provide a pivotal communications role in any number of public places, from schools and town halls to live music venues and pubs. They are usually the primary means of addressing a large crowd or audience of people, and reliability is an understandably significant aspect of any PA system.
At the same time, many smaller venues can find themselves operating on a very tight budget, and both resources and options may be limited when it comes to selecting an appropriate PA system. Rather than opting for a lower specification model, it is not surprising that many organisations will choose instead to buy a second-hand system. This is a compromise choice which will allow many customers to purchase the ideal unit within their budget.
This guide has been produced to highlight some of the most crucial aspects of buying a used and pre-owned PA system. It will detail many of the most fundamental requirements of a PA system and offer advice on how to ensure that any second-hand model will still deliver the results and performance to an acceptable quality and that reliability remains unaffected.
The final part of the guide will help customers to locate used PA systems online, thus offering even greater choice, and savings, than purchasing from an electrical goods store.

What Is a PA System?

PA is an abbreviated form of ‘personal address’, and a personal address system at its most basic is one of any number of voice amplification products. PA systems can be portable, self-contained units, or they can be expertly constructed and complex systems comprising numerous individual pieces of audiophile equipment. PA systems are commonly found in public places where information has to be provided via loudspeakers, such as conference halls, leisure centres, theatres, railway stations, and concert halls.

Using a PA System

PA systems provide an end-to-end solution for voice amplification. They incorporate a microphone, an amplifier, and loudspeakers in their most basic form, but more versatile systems will also include media players and audio mixers with multiple channel inputs.
Selecting the ideal PA system is a matter of understanding how it is to be used. A singer in a band will have different requirements to a theatre usher hoping to make announcements to a foyer of visitors, for example. Below is a chart of many of the most common uses for PA systems, and the key functions that each task will rely upon.

Speeches, Lectures, and Presentations:

Many PA systems are used only for giving talks, lectures, and presentations, such as in a professional or academic situation. In these instances, the audience will usually generate little sound, and a simple amplification unit may be all that is required. Multiple microphone inputs will be useful for times when multiple presenters are speaking or engaged in conversation. Larger theatres may require a greater number of speakers, which may be positioned evenly throughout the hall.

Public Announcements and Information:

PA systems which are used for announcements, and information can be found in many public areas, from shops to railway stations to hotel lobbies. A large number of speakers will be required to allow important messages to be heard in every area of the venue or public space. In very noisy environments, such as railway stations and outdoors events, traditional speakers are commonly replaced by horn loudspeakers. These are designed to naturally increase the amplification of the output signal so that it may be heard above competing noises and ambient sound.

Live Music:

It is common for vocalists in live music ensembles to provide their own PA system for performances in many venues. Singers will usually own a PA system to provide amplification to their voice during rehearsals so that they can be heard above the drums and other amplified instruments such as guitars. Whether a PA system for vocal performances is owned by the individual musician or supplied by the venue, its requirements will be the same. Musicians will need to carefully select a system with sufficient amplification to be heard above the backing musicians in all parts of the venue. In smaller spaces, a single speaker may be sufficient, though multiple speakers can be configured to add an extra dimension to a performance and offer greater versatility. More than any other situation, a musician will be concerned with the quality of audio being produced. This may affect some of the choices for PA system, meaning, perhaps, larger speaker cabinets, which respond well to a broad range of frequencies, and a good-quality dynamic microphone to limit the effects of on-stage feedback.

Key Functions

PA systems broadcast sound at an amplified volume. How they achieve this is explained in the table below. Each of the listed components is a crucial part of the audio chain. Modifying any one of them will affect the overall sound and operation of the PA system.

Microphone Inputs:

The most important part of any PA system is the microphone. Connected to an amplifying unit, the microphone allows the operator to broadcast messages through the PA system.

Amplification:

Amplifiers in PA systems may be integrated into a compact unit, a powered mixing desk, or they may be separate components. Amplifiers have a power output measured in Watts (W). A portable PA unit, which may be suitable for addressing a classroom or small hall, may have an amp of less than 100W. The most powerful PA systems, found in large venues, will have a power output of many thousand Watts.

Mixer:

The mixer allows an operator to blend multiple input channels into one, single audio output. A mixer will require a separate channel for every source of audio or input device.

Loudspeakers:

The public will hear the audio via the loudspeakers. The size of speaker dictates the frequency response of the system: a larger speaker will be better at handling low frequency audio. When a system is to be used for spoken word, it may be possible to save money by choosing smaller-sized speakers.

Advice When Purchasing Pre-Owned and Used Electrical Goods

While buying used goods can be a great way of making drastic cost savings on electrical goods, it also poses its own unique problems which must be identified and addressed before completing a transaction. The condition of any pre-owned item is always important to its new owner, but this is especially true of a personal address system, which is used in a professional setting. A PA system in poor condition will reflect negatively on a company's image, and one which cannot be relied upon to operate properly when required may result in delays to important events, expensive service bills, and, inevitably, a loss of business.
It is always necessary to make several thorough checks of used equipment before purchase. When shopping online, this may not always be practical or possible. Instead, customers should request a detailed report on every aspect of a PA system. Any reputable vendor will be happy to supply any details requested. Online transactions are protected with a strict returns policy, and any item supplied which does not fit the precise description offered by the seller can be returned with no financial loss to the customer.
The following chart lists many of the most common faults and defects found in pre-owned, electrical audio goods. Use it as a check-list to ensure any system is in a usable condition before completing a transaction.

Microphone:

Microphones can sustain damage through shock or poor storage. Damage to the cables and connections may result in audible crackling and loss of frequency response. A replacement microphone, which is not the same model as initially included with a PA system, may be an indication that the previous owner did not store or handle the equipment carefully and was forced to provide a replacement unit.

Sockets and Inputs:

Sockets and inputs of all types are especially susceptible to sustaining damage. Cords may be struck accidentally or removed with undue care, damaging the soldered connections within the socket's circuitry. Similarly, inputs become dirty and conduct signals poorly if a device is stored improperly. Ensure that all sockets and inputs function without the need to adjust the connections, and that there is no audible crackling, buzzing, or popping sounds when in use.

Mixer Sliders:

Mixers are prone to sustaining general wear and tear on their slider controls. These are the elements which adjust the channel volumes and act as cross-faders from one channel to the next. Although sliders are designed to be robust and are capable of handling constant use, they can be difficult and expensive to repair and replace. Ensure that each slider and potentiometer operates smoothly and without any audio interference.

Loudspeaker Cones, Covers, and Stands:

Speaker units are built within sturdy cases which protect the inner workings. They are most likely to sustain damage on the speaker cone itself. A tear in the surface of the cone will distort the output audio and produce an unpleasant buzzing sound. For this reason, speaker covers should be present, and be in a good condition.
Many PA systems provide stands for individual speakers, allowing them to be repositioned inside a venue as intended. Ensure that each stand is in good condition and that every fastening and locking mechanism can be fully secured. Speakers are large and can be extremely heavy. A stand that is in poor condition may result in damaged equipment and is an extreme health risk to members of the public.

Finding Used PA Systems on eBay

Finding PA systems online provides the broadest choice of devices, saves time, and can return substantial cost savings. The online marketplace, eBay, is divided into categories allowing for fast searches of items. Public address systems are located in several electrical goods categories, including Performance & DJ Equipment, Home Audio & HiFi Separates, and Other Sound & Vision.
Musicians who use PA systems for performances should check the music categories too, including the Pro Audio Equipment and the Other Pro Audio Equipment sections. In each category, a column on the left of the page offers options to further limit a search. Select the Used check box in the Condition category to view all of the pre-owned items.

Conclusion

Used public address systems can provide the ideal broadcast solution for a fraction of the price of a new model. Choosing the right unit is a matter of understanding the environment in which it will be used and the demands that will be put upon the system. This guide should allow any customer to select the ideal PA system and ensure that any potential problems arising from a pre-owned item are addressed prior to purchase.

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